Majuro: On the same day that the first landings were being made on Kwajalein Atoll, American forces with far less difficulty were occupying Majuro Atoll about 265 nautical miles to the southeast. Majuro was correctly believed to be only lightly defended, if at all, and the configuration of the atoll plus its location on the eastern rim of the Marshalls made it an ideal location for an advance naval base. Hence the decision to include its capture as a secondary phase of the FLINTLOCK operation. The atoll contains a large lagoon, about twenty-six miles long and six miles wide, surrounded by a narrow ribbon of islets covered with low-lying vegetation and connected by submarine reefs. Some portions of this rim are distinguishable as separate islands. The largest of these, Majuro Island, extends from the southwestern corner of the atoll about fifteen miles east. Between Majuro Island and Dalap Island, twelve miles to the east, there is a string of small islets. On the eastern leg of the atoll north of Dalap lie Uliga and Darrit Islands. The northern side of the atoll is irregular and broken. Along it, and elsewhere around the lagoon are many tiny islets too small to be of any consequence. Near the middle of the northern leg are the two best entrance channels, separated by Eroj Island. Calalin Pass, to which the attacking force was directed, was that at the east, lying between Eroj and Calalin Islands.
The Majuro Attack Group (Task Group 51.2), commanded by Admiral Hill, left Pearl Harbor on 23 January in company with the Reserve Force destined for Kwajalein. The ground forces committed to Majuro consisted of the 2nd Battalion, 106th Infantry, reinforced, of the 27th Infantry Division, under command of Colonel Sheldon, and of the V Amphibious Corps Reconnaissance Company, commanded by Captain James L. Jones, USMC. These troops, totaling over 1,500 officers and men, were carried aboard the transport Cambria, which also served as Admiral Hill’s flagship, and the high-speed transport Kane.
Protection was initially provided by the cruiser Portland, escort carriers Nassau and Natoma Bay, and later by Destroyer Division 96, consisting of Bullard, Black, Kidd, and Chauncey, which rendezvoused with the attack group at sea after a voyage from Funafuti. Three mine sweepers, Chandler, Sage, and Oracle and the LST 482, carrying the amphibious vehicles for the landing, completed the group.
At 0300 on 30 January, the Majuro group broke off from the remainder of the convoy bound for Kwajalein and headed directly for its target.3 About two hours later Kane sped forward alone and reached Calalin Pass about 2130 that evening. Under cover of darkness she launched her rubber boats that were to carry ashore the first American troops to land on a possession held by the Japanese before the outbreak of the war. Led by 1st Lieutenant Harvey C. Weeks, USMC, elements of the V Amphibious Corps Reconnaissance Company landed on Calalin Island close to the entrance to the pass. They found one native and at 2345 reported by radio that he had told them that about 300 to 400 enemy were on Darrit Island, but that none were elsewhere on the atoll.
Meanwhile, Kane had continued around the eastern end of the atoll and at 0200 on 31 January commenced to land the remainder of the reconnaissance company, under Captain Jones, on Dalap Island. Proceeding north along the island, they found a native from whom they learned, in direct contradiction of the earlier report, that all but four of the enemy had left Majuro more than a year earlier and that those four Japanese were at the other end of the atoll on Majuro Island. Confirmation of this second account was next obtained from an English-speaking half-caste, Michael Madison, who was discovered on Uliga Island. By this time Admiral Hill’s ships had commenced their scheduled naval gunfire on Darrit Island at 0600, and Captain Jones had some difficulty in getting in touch with the flagship by radio to call off the fire, which was not needed since no known enemy was on the island. Finally, after about fifteen minutes, radio contact was established and the naval bombardment of the eastern section of the atoll ceased.
A detail from the reconnaissance company then walked across the reef from Uliga to Darrit and verified the report that had prompted suspension of the bombardment. They found the village on Darrit deserted and installations only partly damaged by the naval gunfire. Incomplete buildings and useful construction material were also discovered.
That afternoon the marines of the reconnaissance company boarded Kane to be taken to Majuro Island itself, where it was hoped they would find the remnant of Japanese reported to be still in the atoll. At 2145 that evening a detail of forty-two men landed from rubber boats and commenced patrolling the island. Only one Japanese was discovered, a Warrant Officer Nagata of the Imperial Japanese Navy, who had been left as overseer of Japanese property in Majuro. Several machine guns and a small store of dynamite and hand grenades were taken, and with that the “capture” of Majuro Atoll was completed.
D Day: Northern Kwajalein
The 4th Marine Division’s plan for the capture of the northern half of Kwajalein Atoll was in most respects a duplicate of that of the 7th Infantry Division’s for the southern half. The principal target was Roi-Namur, twin islands on the northern tip of the atoll, connected only by a strip of sandy beach and an artificial causeway. The day before the main landing was undertaken, adjacent islands were to be captured in order to make safe the passage of naval vessels into the lagoon and provide location for artillery to support the assault on Roi-Namur. This preliminary task was assigned to a special landing group (designated Ivan Landing Group) commanded by General Underhill. It consisted of the 25th Marines (reinforced), the 14th Marines (Artillery), Company D (Scout) of the 4th Tank Battalion, and other attached units.
Ivan and Jacob
At 0900 on 31 January the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, plus the Scout Company, was to make simultaneous landings from the ocean side on Ivan (Mellu) and Jacob (Ennuebing) Islands, which guarded the deep water pass into the lagoon. After the lagoon had been swept for mines, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the same regiment were to move in and land on Albert (Ennumennet) and Alien (Ennubir) Islands, which lay southeast of Namur. If time permitted, the 3rd Battalion was then to capture Abraham (Ennugarret) Island thus completing the chain surrounding Roi-Namur. The four battalions of the artillery regiment (14th Marines) were to be emplaced respectively on Ivan, Jacob, Albert, and Alien, from which positions they could support the next day’s landings on Roi and Namur. Only enough amphibian tractors (from the 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion) were available to carry two landing teams at a time, the 1st and 2nd Battalions. The plan called for the 1st Battalion to release its tractors to the 3rd upon completion of the capture of Ivan and Jacob. This shortage of amphibian tractors, the inevitable complications involved in making five separate landings in one day, and other factors yet to be mentioned led to such confusion and delay that all of the plans for D Day quickly went awry.
At 0535 on 31 January Admiral Conolly’s flagship, Appalachian, in convoy with the transports and fire support ships of the Northern Attack Force took station southwest of Ivan and Jacob Islands and commenced preparing for the initial attack on northern Kwajalein. The sky was overcast; a 19-knot wind blew from the northeast, which meant that the amphibian craft bound for Ivan and Jacob would have to buck both wind and sea.
Shortly before sunrise Conolly’s fire support ships took station, and at 0651 Biloxi and Maryland commenced shelling. In addition to these two vessels, the landings were to be supported by the old battleships Tennessee and Colorado, the heavy cruisers Louisville, Mobile, and Indianapolis, the light cruiser Santa Fe, escort carriers Sangamon, Suwanee, and Chenango, seventeen destroyers, one destroyer escort, and three mine sweepers. At 0715 naval gunfire was checked to permit a scheduled air strike by planes from the escort carriers. This was completed within eight minutes, and the naval guns again took up the blasting of Roi and Namur.
Meanwhile, the troops that were to land on Ivan and Jacob were facing unexpected difficulties getting debarked from their transports into landing craft and transferred into the amphibian tractors, which had been carried aboard LST’s. Before the operation, landing team commanders had estimated that their debarkation interval would be about sixty minutes. This proved to be grossly optimistic. Once the troops were loaded in their assigned landing craft they had to make their way through choppy seas to the LST area for transfer to amphibian tractors. At this juncture all semblance of control broke down.
Landing craft were about two hours late in reaching the LST area. Choppy seas and a head wind were partly responsible for the delays. Boat control officers left the tractors in frantic search for the landing craft and failed to return in time to lead the LVT’s to the line of departure. Tractors were damaged or swamped while milling around their mother LST’s waiting for the troops to show up. Radios in LVT’s were drowned out. One LST weighed anchor and shifted position before completing the disembarkation of all its tractors. The elevator on another broke down so that those LVT’s loaded on the topside deck could not be disembarked on time. In short, almost every conceivable mishap occurred to delay and foul up what, under even the best of circumstances, was a complicated maneuver.
At 0825 another air strike was launched against Roi and Namur and ten minutes later the naval ships again resumed fire. By this time it had become apparent to the control officer who was stationed aboard the destroyer Phelps on the line of departure that the scheduled H Hour could not be met and he so advised Admiral Conolly. The admiral postponed the time of landing by thirty minutes and advised the planes that were to deliver a last-minute bombing and strafing on the beaches to coordinate their actions with the progress of the landing waves, holding their strike until the tractors were twenty minutes off the beach.
Not until 0917 were enough tractors present on the line of departure to warrant starting the final movement forward. As the first wave moved toward the beaches of Ivan, Colonel Samuel C. Cumming, commanding officer of the 25th Marines, radioed, “Good luck to first Marine to land on Japanese soil.” Ahead of the troops bound for Jacob moved a wave of armored amphibians and ahead of them a wave of LCI gunboats. Eleven hundred yards off the shore these ugly little vessels released their barrage of rockets and immediately thereafter the final air strike against the beaches of Ivan and Jacob was delivered. As the LCI’s lay to in the water, the wave of amphibian tanks passed through to pound the beaches with 37-mm. shells. These then deployed to port and starboard and the troop-laden amphibian tractors moved to the shore. The first tractor touched the coral beaches of Jacob at 0952, almost a full hour behind the original schedule.
The landing on Ivan, carried out in the same manner, was even further delayed. Unable to negotiate the reefs on the seaward side the Scout Company, contrary to orders, moved into the lagoon and landed on the southeast beach about 0955. There they quickly built up a firing line across the southern end of the island from east to west. When the remainder of the Ivan Landing Group (C Company) landed on the southwest (seaward) side of the island at 1015, they quickly established liaison with the Scout Company and together the two units moved up the island.
There was only token resistance on Ivan and Jacob. By 1015 Jacob was reported secured with thirteen Japanese killed and three taken prisoner. An hour and a half later Ivan was completely overrun with seventeen enemy killed and two taken prisoner. By early afternoon the 3rd Battalion, 14th Marines (75-mm. pack howitzers), had been carried ashore to Jacob Island in LVT’s, and the 4th Battalion (105-mm. howitzers) was landed on Ivan from LCM’s. With this accomplished, the regiment’s attention could now be turned to the capture of Albert, Alien, and Abraham Islands on the other (eastern) flank of Roi-Namur.
Albert and Alien
The plan for the next stage of D-Day operations called for the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Lewis C. Hudson, to capture Alien Island, and for the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Justice M. Chambers, to take Albert and, if possible, Abraham. A Hour for landing on Albert and Alien was 1430; B Hour for landing on Abraham was 1600. The 2nd Battalion had already been boated in LVT’s (except for one wave, which was in LCVP’s) and was standing by as the reserve force for the Ivan-Jacob landings. There had not been enough LVT’s, however, to carry the 3rd Battalion, which had to wait until early afternoon in LCVP’s until the 1st Battalion had released sufficient tractors to carry the 3rd to its destination.
The first step was to clear the passes and the lagoon off the southern shore of Roi-Namur of any possible mines. By 1116 the mine sweepers had moved under cover of smoke through Jacob Pass and within 1,500 yards of Albert Island. As the sweepers retired southward into the lagoon, Albert and Alien were bombed and strafed by carrier aircraft, and LCI’s moved close in to add to their 20-mm. and 40-mm. fire to the din. Then, about noon, as both mine sweepers and LCI’s moved out of Jacob Pass back into the ocean, six torpedo planes and seven bombers delivered an attack on Albert and four bombers hit Alien. As soon as this was completed naval fire from two destroyers, Porterfield and Haraden, was resumed. Meanwhile the larger vessels were pouring shells into Namur. At 1210 Admiral Conolly sent the order, “Desire MARYLAND move in really close this afternoon for counter battery and counter blockhouse fire, using pointer fire for both main and secondary batteries.” Thus was born the affectionate title “Close-in Conolly,” which was endowed upon the admiral for the rest of the war and never failed to endear him to soldiers and marines who liked the comfortable feeling of battleships and cruisers close behind their own unarmored backs.
Meanwhile, another mix-up in the landing plan had occurred. As naval gunfire and mine-sweeping operations were proceeding inside the lagoon, the landing craft and vehicles to carry the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 25th Marines, to Alien and Albert were supposed to be forming in transfer areas about 3,000 yards southeast of the Ivan-Jacob line of departure, which was marked by the destroyer Phelps. Up to 1130 no boats or LVT’s were anywhere near these areas. About this time Phelps, which had been acting as central control vessel for all D-Day landings, received orders to leave station as control vessel and proceed into the lagoon to deliver fire support missions.
In obedience to these instructions Phelps announced over her bull horn to the SC 997, aboard which rode General Underhill, “Am going to support minesweepers. Take over.” Whereupon the destroyer steamed through Ivan Pass into the lagoon, leaving the job of boat control to the surprised party aboard the subchaser. Unfortunately the SC 997 had been furnished none of the plans for boat control and furthermore had an insufficient number of radios aboard to carry on proper communications with the milling tractors and landing craft. To compound the confusion, most of the tractors of the 2nd Battalion Landing Team took out after Phelps and started to follow her through the pass. General Underhill immediately ordered SC 997 to overtake the retreating troops. Their tractors and landing craft were ordered by megaphone to return to the proper transfer area. En route, the newly appointed control vessel collected a few aimlessly wandering tractors as well as most of the boats carrying the 3rd Battalion Landing Team. Then Admiral Conolly was informed that the assault troops for Alien and Albert would probably be ready in the transfer areas by 1230. With this information, A Hour was postponed to 1430.
By about 1250 a few more tractors had come into the transfer area, and General Underhill then ordered the SC 997 to lead the two assault battalion landing teams through Jacob Pass to Phelps, which was now lying off Albert and Alien waiting to direct the final attack. By this time Colonel Chambers’ 3rd Battalion had only enough LVT’s to make up the first wave and a half. The remainder of these vehicles, which were supposed to have been released by the 1st Battalion, were either sunk or otherwise incapacitated, still drawn up on the beaches of Ivan or Jacob, or simply lost in the melee. General Underhill ordered Chambers to make do with what he had and proceed with the scheduled attack.
At 1342 Phelps, which was now stationed on the line of departure, radioed to Admiral Conolly that the first wave of tractors was not going to meet the 1430 A Hour and recommended that it be delayed by half an hour. It was so ordered. At 1420 the scheduled last-minute air attack was ordered to be executed. Six bombers and one torpedo plane bombed Alien and six bombers and five torpedo planes covered Albert for fifteen minutes. Immediately upon suspension of this attack, the LCI(G)’s moved forward from the line of departure followed by a wave of armored amphibian tractors, which were followed in turn by the amphtracks and landing craft carrying the assault troops. The three destroyers that had been shelling the beach up to this time were ordered to cease fire at 1450. As the waves moved closer to the beaches, the LCI(G)’s opened up with their 40-mm. and 20-mm. guns and their 4.5-inch barrage rockets. On Albert a tremendous explosion was observed as a result of the barrage. Meanwhile, nine dive bombers and nine torpedo bombers from the escort carrier Suwannee were sent in to bomb and strafe Sally Point, the southeast promontory of Namur. At 1513 the first wave of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, touched ground on Albert, and about five minutes later the leading troops of the 2nd Battalion hit Alien.
Resistance on both islands was light. Within twenty minutes after the first touchdown, the 3rd Battalion had pushed across Albert, and killed the ten Japanese present at the cost of one marine killed and seven wounded. The 2nd Battalion had only a little more difficulty. On the northern half of Alien they ran into about a platoon of Japanese, but after sustaining seven casualties the attackers killed the twenty-four enemy and declared the island secure.
Then Company G, supported by five armored amphibians, pushed across the reef to Andrew Island, a little sandspit south of Alien, and took it without suffering casualties. Before dark the 75-mm. pack howitzers of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 14th Marines, had been landed respectively on Alien and Albert, thus completing the bracketing of the main targets of Roi and Namur from both sides. All that remained to complete the day’s operations was the capture of Abraham Island lying immediately southeast of Namur.
Plans for the capture of Abraham were greatly complicated by the premature departure from Albert of all but two LVT’s. This situation came about as a result of a midstream modification of plans and ignorance on the part of the LVT commanders of the proposed scheme for landing on Abraham. After leaving Hawaii and while still aboard ship, General Underhill received a change of D-Day plans to include the capture of Abraham about 1600. This plan was supposed to have been forwarded to the commander of the 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion and his subordinate commanders on the morning of D Day. In the confusion that attended the transfer of troops to the LVT’s, the change of orders was not received by the tractor units. Hence they were under the impression that once Alien and Albert were secured they were at liberty to return to the LST’s to take on much-needed fuel.
Late in the afternoon, Colonel Cumming, commanding officer of the 25th Marines, conferred with Colonel Chambers, the 3rd Battalion commander, on the feasibility of an immediate landing on Abraham. It was agreed and subsequently ordered that B Hour for the landing would be 1800. No artillery support would be available because the pack howitzers had not yet had time to get into position and register. It was too late to establish contact with the naval fire support ships to get naval gunfire support, and although a request was made for air support, it was refused. This meant that the only preliminary fire that Chambers could count on would be from his own 60-mm. and 81-mm. mortars plus the half-tracks that had been attached to his battalion for the invasion of Albert.
Before the hour for jumping off arrived, two more LVT’s were commandeered, bringing the total number available for the attack to four. The commanding officer of Company A, 4th Tank Battalion, 1st Lieutenant Robert E. Stevenson, personally reconnoitered the depth of water by wading almost the whole distance to Abraham. A small sandspit lying between Albert and Abraham (called Albert Junior) was occupied without any opposition except for light fire from Abraham. Then, starting at 1750, the half-tracks and mortars delivered a ten-minute preparatory fire against Abraham, and 81-mm. mortars laid smoke on the landing beach. With 120 officers and men of Company L aboard, the four LVT’s hit the beach on schedule. After putting up a token resistance the few enemy on the island withdrew. Within thirty minutes two rifle companies (Companies L and K, reinforced) had been shuttled to the island. By 1915 the initial occupation of the island was completed, although, part of the confusion resulted from a conflicting interpretation of orders, mopping-up operations continued for several hours. Six enemy were killed and others appear to have escaped to Namur after darkness set in.
The Northern Landing Force Operation Plan 3-43 of 31 December 1943 provided that at the completion of Phase I on D Day, the LVT’s should revert to division control. Since the tractors had not been apprised of the decision to take Abraham, their commanders assumed that with the securing of Alien and Albert, Phase I was completed and they were free to return to the LST area (10th Amph Trac Bn Rpt FLINTLOCK, p. 3). On the other hand, General Underhill’s Ivan Landing Group order directed the LVT’s attached to 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, to return to their LST’s only when released by his command. According to this interpretation, “. . . there was no authority for LVT(A)’s to detach themselves from CT-25 or leave ALBERT or ALLEN until ordered by G.G., IVAN Landing Group or by C.O., CT-25 and no release had been given.” (4th Marine Div Final Rpt FLINTLOCK, Annex C, p. 5.)
Immediately upon its capture, steps were taken to convert Abraham Island into a base for regimental weapons to support the next day’s attack on Namur, which lay only 460 yards away. Ammunition and supplies were brought from Albert throughout the night. Battery B of the 4th Special Weapons Battalion and the 75-mm. platoon of the regimental Weapons Company were landed. Before daylight the entire north coast bristled with flat-trajectory weapons and mortars. The total fire power located on Abraham came to five 75-mm. half-tracks, seventeen 37-mm. guns, four 81-mm. mortars, nine 60-mm. mortars, and sixty-one machine guns. The 24th Marines, which next day would attack Namur, would have reason to be thankful for all this additional support on their right flank.
Thus, by the close of D Day the 25th Marines had captured five islands flanking the main target of Roi-Namur. Four battalions of artillery (three of 75-mm. pack howitzers and one of 105-mm. howitzers) had been emplaced, and all but the one 105-mm. battalion had commenced registration. Mortars, machine guns, and regimental weapons in considerable number had gone into position to support the right flank of the assault on Namur. An estimated 135 Japanese had been killed at the cost of eighteen marines killed, eight missing, and forty wounded in action.
On D Day, Roi and Namur had both been subjected to constant bombardment from air and from sea. The lagoon off the southern landing beaches had been swept and found clear of mines. Under cover of darkness an underwater demolition team had reconnoitered south of Roi and Namur to within fifty yards of the beaches and found no mines or obstructions.
On the night of 31 January-1 February, as the marines and sailors ashore and afloat anxiously awaited the dawn that would initiate the main assault on northern Kwajalein, three destroyers kept up an intermittent fire on those islands to harass the Japanese and prevent them from resting up for the coming attacks. Star shells from the destroyers from time to time pierced the murky darkness. The LST’s of the initial group stayed at anchor inside the lagoon, fueling their embarked LVT’s and otherwise preparing for the main assault The flagship Appalachian lay to just outside the lagoon, as did the ships of Transport Division 26, which spent the night disembarking ammunition and supplies to Ivan and Jacob. The remainder of the large ships of the Northern Attack Force cruised at sea waiting the signal to return to the attack area at daylight.
Initial Landings on Roi and Namur
The plan for the main assault on Roi-Namur called for simultaneous landings by the 23rd Marine Regimental Combat Team on Red Beaches 2 and Red 3 on the lagoon (south) shore of Roi and of the 24th Marine Regimental Combat Team on Green Beaches 1 and Green 2 on the lagoon shore of Namur (Map VII). Each regiment would attack with two battalions abreast and one in reserve. The assault waves were to be carried in LVT’s, which would be preceded by armored amphibians as far as the shore line. LCI gunboats, as usual, would lead the waves close in to shore, firing their guns and rockets as they went. W Hour for Roi and Namur was to be 0900 on 1 February.
The original plan had called for the transfer of the troops of the 23rd and 24th Regimental Combat Teams from their transports to LST’s outside the lagoon on the afternoon of D Day while the outlying islands were being captured. Then, in the early morning hours of 1 February, the LST’s were to launch their troop-laden amphibian tractors, which would proceed into the lagoon under their own power and take station on the line of departure. Because of the many difficulties that had beset the LVT’s on D Day, this plan was changed. After the troop transfer had been completed, the LST’s were ordered to move into the lagoon themselves early on the 1st before discharging their amphibian tractors.
While the LST’s got under way preparatory to moving into the lagoon and making ready to put their amphibian tractors into the water, naval ships and planes commenced their final softening up of the target. At 0650 the first bombardment began when Santa Fe, Maryland, Indianapolis, Biloxi, Mustin, and Russell opened fire on Roi, and twenty minutes later Tennessee, Colorado, Louisville, Mobile, Morris, and Anderson commenced pounding Namur. Artillery fire commenced at 0645 with the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 14th Marines, firing on the beaches of Namur and the 3rd and 4th Battalions on those of Roi.
Meanwhile, the assault troops were struggling, as often as not unsuccessfully, to get into their LVT’s and move toward the line of departure. The 23rd Marines were to be carried to their beaches by the tractors of the 4th Amphibian Tractor Battalion, which had rested idle aboard their LST’s outside the lagoon on D Day. To the 24th Marines bound for Namur were assigned the tractors of the 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion that had participated in the preceding day’s actions.
The troubles that had beset the 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion on D Day were titanic. They had been launched too far from the line of departure in the first place. They had had to buck adverse winds and unexpectedly choppy seas. Radio failures had tremendously complicated the problem of control, causing still further delay and much unnecessary travel through the water. All of this spelled excessive fuel consumption and many of the tractors ran out of gas before the day was over. For an LVT to run out of fuel in a choppy sea was usually disastrous. This model, the LVT(2), shipped water easily and its bilge pumps could not be manually operated. Thus, when the gasoline supply was gone the vehicle could not be pumped out and usually sank. In addition, many of the tractors of the 10th Battalion had not been released from their duties on D Day until after dark, were unable to get back to their mother LST’s for refueling, and had spent the night on various outlying islands.
Thus, as the hour for descending on Namur approached, the 24th Marines could muster only 62 of the 110 tractors that had been assigned to them. A hurried call was sent out for LCVP’s to make up the difference. Since the regimental commander, Colonel Franklin A. Hart, USMC, had not yet received the report of the previous night’s beach reconnaissance by the underwater demolition team, he was not sure whether there was enough water off the beach to float LCVP’s. Hence he had to make last-minute changes in the scheduled wave formation. In the zone of the 2nd Battalion, which was destined for Green Beach 2, the original fourth wave was ordered to go in as the second and third waves on the left of the line. This was because Company E, which had originally been designated as reserve, had all of its twelve amphibian tractors available whereas Company G, designated the left assault company, had only three.
To the left, off the beaches of Roi, the 23rd Marines were having their own share of problems. Their LST’s were late in arriving on station inside the lagoon and once there they encountered serious difficulties in disembarking their tractors. Elevators jammed when the effort was made to lower the LVT’s stowed on the top decks into the tank decks for launching. To add to these mechanical failures, the naval personnel of the LST’s were for the most part inexperienced. Some of these ships had been rushed from their Ohio River building yards to San Diego only a few days before final departure for the Marshalls. Their crews had had only the most rudimentary basic training and very little time to work with the troops and the equipment. On one LST, only one man in the entire crew professed to having actually seen an LVT lowered down the elevator from the main deck to the tank deck.
As soon as Admiral Conolly was made fully aware of this series of delays, he realized that the original W Hour of 1000 could not possibly be met. Accordingly, at 0853 the time for the first landing was postponed an hour, and shortly thereafter fire support ships were ordered to adjust their schedules to the new W Hour.
As tractors and landing craft struggled to reach the line of departure and form in some semblance of orderly boat waves, naval ships and planes continued their devastating attack on the landing beaches and inland. At 1026 naval and artillery fire ceased as sixteen torpedo bombers and dive bombers from the light carrier Cabot flew in to drop their 2,000-pound bombs on assigned targets. Ten minutes later fifteen dive bombers arrived from Intrepid to drop their loads, followed by a dozen fighters from the same ship, who flew in low and strafed the landing beaches. At 1055 Admiral Conolly ordered all planes out of immediate area of the islands and ships and artillery were told to resume fire. Roi and Namur were covered with such towering plumes of smoke that one air observer reported the ceiling to be “absolutely zero.”
At the line of departure, marked again by the destroyer Phelps, confusion still reigned as W Hour approached and then passed. Off the beaches of Roi, Colonel Louis R. Jones, commanding the 23rd Marines, was out of radio contact with the commander of the 4th Amphibian Tractor Battalion. Radios had been doused with rain and salt water and, as had been the case the day before, very few were functioning. Lieutenant Colonel Edward J. Dillon, commanding the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, reported that he was completely out of touch with the regimental commander, and similar communications difficulties beset other units.
By the time the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, reached the line of departure it was after 1000, the time originally set for the initial landing. Neither the troops nor their officers had yet received word of the delay in W Hour and therefore “felt that they had failed miserably to perform their mission.” In one case, the naval wave commander had lost some of the LVT’s en route to the line of departure and the senior Marine officer had to hold up the wave until the missing tractors could be located.
In the case of the fourth wave, consisting of LCM’s carrying tanks, no wave commander ever appeared to guide the craft into the line of departure. Since no radio contact could be established, dispatch boats had to be sent out to locate the missing tanks and lead them into position. Not until 1045, roughly an hour and a half behind schedule, were all the tractors and boats of this battalion ready on or near the line of departure to make the run for the beach.
At the same time Colonel Dillon of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, was having his share of grief. At 1040 he got word from the commanding officer of Company E that the elevator on the company’s LST had jammed and that some of his tractors would be delayed reaching the line of departure. Since this company was scheduled for the first two waves, readjustment in the wave formation was required. Dillon simply ordered all tractors afloat to proceed independently to the line of departure and form themselves into a third and a fourth wave in the order of their arrival.
Eleven o’clock came and went and still no order had been given to land the troops. The 23rd Regiment had enough of its tractors in the area of the line of departure to start the assault, but the 24th on its right was still not ready. The run from the line of departure to the beach, it was estimated, would take thirty-three minutes, but by 1027 there were still not enough tractors on the line of departure off of Namur to make an orderly attack. At 1041 Colonel Hart reported that his waves were still not ready for the attack and at about the same time Admiral Conolly advised the fire support ships that W Hour might be delayed another fifteen minutes. Colonel Hart meanwhile was under the impression that W Hour would be delayed indefinitely until his troops could form in sufficient number and in correct enough order to make a sustained attack.
By 1110, however, both Admiral Conolly and General Schmidt decided that there had been enough delay. The stunning blows delivered by aerial bombardment and naval gunfire might soon wear off and the tractors’ fuel supply could not last forever. Therefore, Phelps was granted permission to send in the first wave, and at 1112 the flag Baker was hauled down from her yardarm giving the signal to start for shore. Off the beaches of Roi this was welcome news to the anxious troops of the 23rd Marines, who had for some time been drawn up in fairly good formation on the line of departure. Colonel Jones some minutes before had been impatiently demanding of the control craft in his area why the first wave had not been sent in. But to Colonel Hart lying off Namur the order was an unwelcome surprise. Indeed, the first indication he received that the order to land had been executed came only when he spotted the tractors of his 3rd Battalion Landing Team start off for the beach. Thinking they had jumped the gun, he immediately dispatched a control vessel to intercept them, but then observed that the tractors carrying the 23rd Regimental Combat Team had also started for the line of departure. In view of this, there was nothing to do but send in those of his straggling waves that were on or near the line and trust to fortune that the landing would not be too chaotic.
Ahead went the LCI gunboats, behind them the armored amphibians, and behind them the infantry in tractors, followed by tanks in LCM’s. On Roi the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, landed on the left on Red Beach 2, and the 2nd Battalion on the right on Red Beach 3. Armored amphibians of the 1st Battalion touched down at 1133 and moved inland to the antitank trench to take up firing positions. There they continued firing their 37-mm. guns and .30-caliber machine guns across the entire landing team zone of action. One of the armored amphibians was hit by .50-caliber fire from the rear, killing one marine.
Shortly thereafter a platoon of the LVT(A)’s moved around the left flank through the water and over Wendy Point to open fire on Norbert Circle at the west end of the northern runway. By 1158 the first two waves of infantry had landed, somewhat west of the assigned zone, but not sufficiently so to prevent their taking up assigned positions. Resistance up to this point was characterized as very light. On the right the assault wave of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, reached shore at 1150, passing through the armored amphibians. The heavy pall of smoke that covered the island obscured the vision of the first troops to get ashore, and for that reason four tractors of the right assault company (Company F) landed on the right of the regimental boundary line between Red Beach 3 and Green Beach 1. There they silenced a few Japanese positions still operating before moving northwest into their proper zone of action.
On Namur, the first troops hit the shore about 1145. On the left was the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, and on the right the 2nd Battalion. On the left the first wave of the 3rd Battalion did not land on Green Beach 1 until 1200. Its substitute reserve company, Company B, got ashore about forty-five minutes later. The 2nd Battalion Combat Team, at Green Beach 2, was somewhat prompter. Its first troops got ashore at about 1145, although by the time they landed the first and second waves had become scrambled. Company G, in reserve, landed at only about 50 percent strength somewhat later than scheduled and was followed piecemeal by the balance of the reserves as they were able to secure LCVP’s. Very little fire was encountered except friendly fire from the rear. The armored amphibians that had led the tractors into the beach had been ordered to land and precede the assault troops up to a hundred yards inland. Instead, they halted offshore and let the tractors pass through them. This created an un-expected traffic congestion in a movement that was already far from orderly. Worse still, the amphibians kept up their fire at the beach through the troops as the latter worked inland, causing some casualties and more indignation among the infantry.
The Capture of Roi
The main effort in the attack on Roi was on the right in the zone assigned to Colonel Dillon’s 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines. The battalion had been ordered to land on Red Beach 3 and move up the east coast of the island where, according to photographic intelligence, most of the enemy’s hangars, buildings, and other aviation base facilities were. To this landing team had been assigned a full company of armored amphibians plus most of the division’s medium tank company (Company C, 4th Tank Battalion, less one platoon) and an additional platoon of light tanks from Company A. The tanks were to land from LCM’s in two waves immediately following the first two waves of infantry.
The first two waves of infantry landed easily. Colonel Dillon, on receiving word that there were no obstacles present either under water or on the beaches themselves, ordered his two waves of tanks to come in. The LCM’s carrying the tanks were supposed to proceed through a channel immediately west of Tokyo Pier, but since the pier had been demolished some of the coxswains failed to find the channel and the first platoon of medium tanks grounded on the coral shelf about two hundred yards offshore. About half of the vehicles had to drive through water up to five and a half feet deep before touching ground, but each LCM carried aboard an extra tank man who waded through water ahead of the tank and guided it around potholes, so all reached shore safely. Once ashore, the tanks were temporarily held up by an antitank ditch directly behind the beach. Proceeding eastward in column they quickly found a place where the ditch had been filled in by preliminary bombardment and made their way across.
Once over the ditch, the tanks assumed a line formation and moved directly across the airfield toward the first objective line. Behind them came the first waves of infantry. Resistance was light and scattered. “The air and naval gunfire bombardment,” reported the battalion commander, “had reduced the entire zone of action to a shambles.” One pillbox located in the middle of the sand strip connecting Roi and Namur was still intact and functioning, and some fire was still coming from positions among the debris of the beach defenses, along the eastern edge of the island, and in the southeast corner of the airfield. Otherwise, the enemy was silent.
In spite of the weakness of the opposition, the troops moved forward cautiously. It was their first experience under fire and they had expected to meet much heavier resistance than they actually did. Also, they thought it necessary to investigate almost every square foot of ground on the not unlikely chance that Japanese would be hiding under the debris of demolished fortifications.
Tanks and troops moved forward together and in about half an hour reached the first objective line (0-1 line) located about 200 to 350 yards inland from the shore line. Once there, the medium tank company commander radioed his liaison officer on the beach, requesting permission to cross the 0-1 line. Unfortunately, the frequencies assigned to the tanks and to supporting aircraft were so close together that they caused mutual interference, and the message could not be gotten through. What bothered the tank commander was that the enemy antitank guns, located in the blockhouses on the northern edge of the airfield, might still be operating and he was afraid to leave his vehicles immobilized on the open runway. Failing to establish radio contact, the tanks proceeded across the line without permission. Shortly thereafter, front-line elements of the infantry followed the tanks, also without orders to do so.
On the left of the 2nd Battalion, the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hewin O. Hammond, had landed on Red Beach 2. They, too, found the resistance unexpectedly light. A group of pillboxes thought to be located on Wendy Point, the southwest promontory of the island, proved to have been wiped out by preliminary bombardment. As in the case of the 2nd Battalion, the infantrymen pushed on ahead of the 0-1 line without orders, following the medium tanks ahead of them. There were a number of reasons for this: the runway that marked the line was so covered by debris as to be unrecognizable; radio communications between the landing team commander and his assault company commanders failed; and platoon leaders found it hard to maintain control because, in the words of one sergeant, “the men wanted to kill a Jap so they went out on their own.”
By 1311 Colonel Jones, the 23rd’s commander, was ashore and radioed back to General Schmidt, “This is a pip. No opposition near the beach. Located scattered machine gun fire vicinity of split between . . . [Roi] and . . . [Namur]. Landing teams moving in to 0-1 line. Little or no opposition.” Fifteen minutes later he followed this announcement with the message, “Give us the word and we will take the rest of the island.”
In spite of this optimism, division headquarters was disturbed that front-line elements had crossed the 0-1 line without orders and that the tanks were operating independently to the north of the line. Any attempt at a co-ordinated push to the northern shore of the island was out of the question until some order had been brought out of the confusion that existed on the front. Furthermore, neither close air support nor naval call fire could be utilized until the front line had been stabilized. At 1325 General Schmidt notified Colonel Jones to await orders for further attack and urged him to get his tanks under control and bring them back to the 0-1 line.
Finally, the order came to push off in a co-ordinated attack from the 0-1 line at 1530. About the same time the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, assigned to the eastern (right) zone of Roi, moved out closely behind its supporting medium tanks. From left to right (west to east) were Companies E, G, and F. In reserve was the 3rd Battalion Landing Team of the 23rd Regiment, which had come ashore at about 1450. Its duty was to defend the right flank of Roi to the 0-1 line. Troops of the reserve landing team not thus occupied were to support the advance of the 2nd Battalion to the north shore of Roi.
On the left, Company E met practically no opposition and reached its objective by 1600. On the right and in the center the going was somewhat rougher, although at no time did the enemy offer any really serious obstruction to the progress of Companies G and F. The first obstacle to be encountered was a concrete administration building with steel doors, which by some freak of chance had not been touched by naval gunfire, planes, or artillery. Troops of Company F advanced toward it cautiously but received no fire. One man was sent forward toward the door under cover of fire. He kicked it open and tossed in a grenade. Only one Japanese was found inside and the grenade disposed of him.
A few minutes later the company commander called for a dive bombing attack on a blockhouse located about 500 yards north of the 0-1 line. This installation was constructed of reinforced concrete approximately three feet thick and had three gun ports, one each facing north, east, and west, another indication of the enemy’s mistaken assumption that the Americans would attack from the sea rather than the lagoon shore. Two heavy hits had been made on the blockhouse, one apparently by 14-inch or 16-inch shells and the other by an aerial bomb. Nevertheless, the position had not been demolished and Colonel Dillon asked for a dive bombing attack against it. The air support commander refused the request because the front-line troops were less than three hundred yards away from the target, too close for safety.
Dillon then ordered Company G to take the blockhouse. The company commander first sent forward a 75-mm. half-track, which fired five rounds against the steel door. At this point, a demolition squad came up and its commander volunteered to knock out the position with explosives. While the half-track continued to fire, infantry platoons moved up on each flank of the installation. The demolition squad placed charges at the ports and pushed Bangalore torpedoes through a shell hole in the roof. “Cease fire” was then ordered and, after hand grenades were thrown inside the door, half a squad of infantry went in to investigate. Unfortunately, the engineers of the demolition squad had not got the word to cease fire and had placed a shaped charge at one of the ports while the infantry was still inside. Luckily, no one was hurt, but as the company commander reported, “a very undignified and hurried exit was made by all concerned.” Inside were found three heavy machine guns, a quantity of ammunition, and the bodies of three Japanese.
The time of attack of 1530 had been sent by radio; subsequently a verbal order from the commanding officer of the 23rd Marines set this back to 1515. This caused some confusion in the minds of battalion commanders, but did not seriously interfere with the attack.
Extending east from the blockhouse, overlooking the beach, was a system of trenches and machine gun positions, some connected by tunnels. Here the few remaining Japanese put up a feeble resistance. Most of those who had stayed in the trenches were already dead. The pillboxes were still firing but these were taken out by the demolition squad of Company F aided by the 37-mm. guns from the division special weapons battalion. Companies F and G then moved on to Nat Circle in the northeast corner of Roi and wiped out what few enemy remained in that area by 1700. The 2nd Battalion then secured for the day and set up night defensive positions.
Meanwhile, in the left (west) half of Roi, the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, was having an even easier time in accomplishing its objectives. Company A had landed on the left, Company B on the right, with Company C coming in somewhat later as reserve. By 1215 the battalion commander learned that his Company A had passed beyond the 0-1 line and immediately ordered its withdrawal. This took some time to accomplish, as the company commander could establish no radio contact with his platoon leaders and had to rely on runners to get the order through. Gradually, the forward platoon was drawn back and preparations made to start a co-ordinated attack to the north.
At 1530 the battalion commander called a conference of all company commanders and ordered the reserve Company C to pass through Company A and press the attack up the west coast of Roi. It was to be supported by one platoon of the weapons company, a platoon of medium tanks, and three half-tracks. Company B on the right was to hold its position on the 0-1 line.
Company C jumped off at 1600 hugging the west coast of the island. Infantry and demolitions engineers moved forward slowly behind the tanks, meeting only light rifle and machine gun fire. A few scattered enemy riflemen continued to fire as the troops approached the north shore. These were quickly disposed of by the tanks firing 75-mm. and machine guns. The preliminary bombardment had virtually annihilated the enemy in this part of Roi. In one trench on the north coast were discovered forty to fifty recently killed Japanese—the only enemy, dead or alive, encountered. By 1800 Company C reached the northwest corner of the island at Norbert Circle and was ready to secure for the night. Casualties during the day for the entire battalion had come to only three killed and eleven wounded.
Thus, by early evening, marines of the 23rd Regimental Combat Team had, with comparative ease, established a firm beachhead on the lagoon shore of Roi and had captured most of the land lying along the east and west coasts. All that remained was for the small pocket in the center of the airfield to be mopped up.
The only feature to mar the complete success of the day’s ground fighting was a rash of indiscriminate firing that broke out all over Roi, starting about 1800 and lasting for more than half an hour. The sources were not clearly established, but on later investigation it was obvious that trigger-happy, green marines both on Roi and on Namur were responsible. Following this episode, Lieutenant Colonel John J. Cosgrove, Jr., commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, concluded “that fire discipline was poor, . . . that 95% of those firing had no definite idea as to why they were firing . . . [and] . . . that a large portion of those firing were doing so because they wanted to be able to say they had fired at a Jap.”
As night settled down, fire discipline was once again restored, and the marines on Roi rested in their shelters and foxholes uninterrupted by enemy counterattack. For all practical purposes the island was secured. All that remained next day was to mop up the few remaining Japanese, and this was accomplished without much difficulty. Credit for the ease with which Roi was taken goes largely to the preliminary bombardment by naval guns and aircraft and Marine artillery. Colonel Dillon, commanding the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, estimated that of the 400 Japanese dead in the eastern half of the island, 250 were killed by action prior to W Hour. Since most of the resistance encountered on Roi was in the zone of this battalion, it is reasonable to believe that a similar ratio obtained on the rest of the island. But to the eastward, affairs were not proceeding so smoothly for the 24th Regimental Combat Team. Namur was proving a much harder nut to crack.
The Capture of Namur
An air observer flying over the beaches of Namur about twenty minutes after the initial landing reported, “There is no enemy resistance. . . . Don’t think a bird could be alive.” This was somewhat of an exaggeration. The troops of the 24th Marines were to encounter considerably more resistance on Namur than was being met on Roi. Roi was almost all airfield, open and uncluttered by many buildings or much vegetation. Namur, on the other hand, contained the bulk of the shelters and buildings housing the aviation and other personnel located in northern Kwajalein. Furthermore, it was thickly covered with underbrush that even the heavy preliminary bombardment had not succeeded in burning off. Here was congregated the majority of enemy troops assigned to the twin islands. They were concealed among the numerous buildings scattered through the area and were afforded ample protection by the thick vegetation that remained standing.
The four assault companies of the 3rd and 2nd Battalion Landing Teams had landed on Green Beaches 1 and 2 respectively between 1145 and 1200. From left to right they were Companies I, K, E, and F. Because of the shortage of amphibian tractors, the original reserve companies of each of these battalion landing teams could not be boated soon enough to perform the missions assigned to them, so the reserve landing team, the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, which was already boated in LCVP’s behind the line of departure, was ordered to send one assault company to the 2nd Battalion and another to the 3rd Battalion to substitute for the reserve companies.
Thus, Company B landed about 1245 as reserve for the 3rd Battalion on Green Beach 1 and Company A got ashore shortly after 1300 to act as reserve for the 2nd Battalion on the right half of the island. The plans called for the assault companies to proceed inland a hundred yards before pausing, in order to place the assault troops inside the perimeter defense of the island. All four companies were then to move as rapidly as possible on to the initial objective (0-1) line, which was marked by Sycamore Boulevard, a road running athwart the island about 400 to 500 yards inland of the beach.
Of the two battalion landing teams allocated to Namur, that on the left had the easier going at first. About 1200 Company I landed on the extreme left and most of Company K came in on its immediate right. One platoon of Company K was sent to Pauline Point, the name given to the tiny spit of land that lay between Roi and Namur. This was the only unit that landed exactly on the proper beach as directed by the landing diagram. Enemy resistance to the initial landing was light and unorganized. What fire there was from pillboxes, shell holes, and debris was neither mutually supporting nor coordinated. Nevertheless, the enemy had not been entirely silenced by the heavy preparatory fire and from the remains of the blockhouses and concrete air raid shelters he was able to pour out enough fire to slow down the progress of the attack. In spite of this, Companies I and K moved ahead in skirmish line, leaving some positions to be mopped up by the reserves.
Company B, the reserve company, landed about 1245 and commenced mopping up. Fifteen minutes later, three light tanks of the 3rd Platoon, Company B, 4th Tank Battalion, got ashore but were almost immediately bogged down. The beach was congested with men and supplies and in trying to get around the congestion, two tanks were bellied up in the soft sand that had been churned up by the preliminary bombardment. The one remaining tank got inland about thirty yards, where it slipped into a shell hole and threw a track, thus immobilizing itself for the time being.
By 1400, about two hours after their touchdown on the beach, both of the assault companies of the 3rd Battalion had reached the 0-1 line on Sycamore Boulevard. There they were ordered to stand by and prepare for a co-ordinated attack northward with the 2nd Battalion Landing Team on their right. The jump-off was to be 1630.
During the two hours and a half of delay before pushing forward the assault, other elements of the battalion landed and various shifts were made along the forward line. The plan called for the left flank of the attack north of 0-1 line to be supported by machine guns and other weapons based on Pauline Point. Between 1430 and 1533 Company M, the weapons company, emplaced its 81-mm. mortars and some of its heavy machine guns on Pauline Point. Company L, which had initially been scheduled to act as battalion reserve, was finally boated, got ashore at 1531, and was ordered to release one assault team to Company I and to relieve Company B in reserve. Company B then relieved Company K on the 0-1 line, while the latter was shifted to Pauline Point. Thus, as the hour for the jump-off approached, Companies I and B rested on the 0-1 line from left to right; Company L was in reserve to their rear; and Company K occupied Pauline Point along with elements of the regimental weapons company.
On Green Beach 2, Companies E and F, from left to right, came ashore within five minutes of each other around noon. Within ten minutes the landing team reserve, Company G, started to land to the right of Yokohama Pier, which was on the boundary between Green Beaches 1 and 2. At 1215 landing team headquarters came ashore, followed approximately five minutes later by the weapons company (Company H) less its detached machine gun platoons. By early afternoon ten light tanks of the 1st and 2nd Platoons, Company B, 4th Tank Battalion, were safely ashore and in a tank assembly area about sixty yards inland.
As on the rest of the island, initial resistance in this zone of action was light. It had been anticipated that Sally Point, the southeast promontory of Namur, would be alive with Japanese weapons. Since the landing beaches extending to the west of Sally Point were concave in shape, this would have been an ideal position for enfilade fire against the shore line and the approaches thereto. That such was not the case can be attributed to the effectiveness of the preliminary air, naval, and artillery bombardment as well as to the supporting fires from the 3rd Battalion Landing Team of the 25th Marines, which had emplaced so many weapons on Abraham Island the night before.
Only desultory fire greeted the assault troops as they pushed inland toward the 0-1 line. At first they were temporarily delayed by an unexpected antitank ditch that extended laterally behind part of Green Beach 2. Most of the amphibian tractors found it impossible to get across this obstacle and had to discharge their troops at the edge of the shore instead of proceeding a hundred yards inland as originally planned.
As the infantrymen moved forward, naval gunfire began to fall too close for comfort, and on the request of the battalion commander all naval ships were ordered to cease fire at 1250. By that time the artillery regiment would have completed its schedule of fire. One final dive-bombing attack was delivered against Natalie Point on the northeastern tip of the island. Thereafter, the fighting was too close and the advance of front-line elements too uneven to justify the use of further support fires. The infantry would have to rely on its own weapons.
By 1300 elements of both assault companies of the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, were on or close to the 0-1 line. On the right, Company F had overrun Sally Point and cleared out two machine guns that had fired a few rounds at the advancing marines. On the left, one boat team of Company E had quickly occupied Yokohama Pier without opposition while the rest of the company moved slowly through the underbrush and debris toward the 0-1 line. In the absence of any well-distinguished landmarks, Company E veered somewhat to the right of its zone of action and later became intermingled on the O-1 line with elements of Company F. The reserve company, G, had been landed in its entirety on the left half of Green Beach 2. It moved straight ahead in the expectation of coming up on the rear of Company E. But since that company had moved to the right, Company G found itself unexpectedly in the position of being in the assault on the battalion left. There, it met with sporadic machine gun and rifle fire and by 1300 was able to move only about 175 yards from the beach.
Up to this point progress in the zone of the 24th Marines had been fairly steady in spite of the confusion incident to dispatching of boat waves from the line of departure, the failure of the armored amphibians to precede the troops inland, and the somewhat piecemeal landing. Resistance was light and scattered, and the main impediment to the advancing troops was the thickness of the underbrush and the presence of a multitude of only half-destroyed buildings and installations, which had to be thoroughly investigated before the advance could proceed.
Then, shortly after 1300, an incident occurred that brought the advance to an abrupt halt and temporarily threw out of gear all plans for an orderly movement across the island to the north shore. With a tremendous roar a revetted building exploded in the zone of Company F. Immediately a thick cloud of pungent black smoke billowed upward a thousand feet and covered the entire island. The odor was so acrid that many thought a gas storehouse had been blown up. At the 2nd Battalion command post there was a frenzied search for gas masks that had been discarded as unnecessary impedimenta.
Down came a rain of large concrete fragments, twisted pieces of steel, shrapnel, and torpedo heads. Casualties to American troops in the immediate area ran from fifty to a hundred, of whom about twenty were killed, either by concussion or by the falling debris. In a few minutes two other less violent explosions occurred somewhat forward of Company F’s front lines. Altogether these three explosions accounted for more than 50 percent of all the casualties suffered on Namur by the 2nd Battalion Landing Team of the 24th Marines.
[NOTE 66-9C: The “boat team” or “assault and demolitions team” represented an innovation in Marine Corps assault tactics. Each team in the assault companies consisted of a light machine gun group of four men, a demolitions group of five men, a bazooka group of three men, a support group consisting of two BAR teams, and an officer in charge. The reserve companies were organized into similar boat teams minus the machine gun elements. Each type of team was capable of embarking in entirety in an LVT(2).]
The cause of this disaster was not clearly understood at the time, but subsequent investigation makes it reasonably certain that at least the first explosion was set off by a Marine demolitions group. These men had moved forward under cover of rifle fire and placed a shaped charge to penetrate the wall of the building near the ground. Once this was done, a sixteen-pound satchel charge was tossed into the building and immediately thereafter it blew up. What had been thought to be a possible gun position turned out to be a torpedo warhead magazine.
The immediate results of the explosions were to stop any further co-ordinated forward movement in the zone of the 2nd Battalion and to delay the organization of units already near the O-1 line. All radio communication between battalion and the assault companies was knocked out and the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Francis H. Brink, had to rely exclusively on runners. Individual boat teams on the front line had already become intermingled and after the explosion the company commanders found it virtually impossible to reorganize their units into any semblance of order or integrity. Moreover, the enemy was becoming more active. Japanese machine gun and rifle fire now enfiladed the entire right half of the 0-1 line.
Nevertheless, Company G on the left succeeded in pushing forward to the 0-1 line by about 1330. Meanwhile, Company A had landed shortly after the first explosion and had moved immediately to Sally Point behind Company F. About 1430 it was attached to the 2nd Battalion Landing Team and ordered to pass through Company F and continue the attack on order. By 1545 Company A was in position on the 0-1 line along Sycamore Boulevard from the sea to a point about two hundred yards northwest. There, it came under fire from either flank of its line. Two light tanks were ordered forward to take out the installation close to the sea on the right. At the same time fifteen LVT(A)’s were ordered to proceed through the water along the east coast of Namur and take the same blockhouse under fire. Meanwhile, on the left of the battalion’s zone, Company C had landed and was ordered to relieve Company E, the latter to go into battalion reserve.
1630 was the jump-off hour prescribed by the regimental commander, Colonel Hart, for a two-battalion push from the 0-1 line to the north shore. On the regimental left the 3rd Battalion Landing Team had been in position for almost two and a half hours and launched its attack as scheduled. Unfortunately during the long delay on 0-1, the Japanese had been able to recover from the shock of the initial heavy shelling and put up much stiffer resistance than they had yet been able to make. The fighting was too close and the front lines too hard to identify to justify the use of artillery, naval call fire, or close aerial support.
[NOTE 7171: Brunelli, The Capture of Namur Island, p. 15. It was in this phase of the action that 1st Lieutenant John V. Power met his death and won the Medal of Honor. While setting a demolition charge on a Japanese pillbox, he was wounded in the stomach. Refusing to withdraw from the fight he pressed forward against another pillbox, stopping the flow of blood with his left hand and firing with his right. After emptying his carbine into this second pillbox he stopped to reload and was shot again in the stomach and head and killed. (Citation quoted in Proehl, The Fourth Marine Division in World War II, p. 11.)
In the right zone, the 2nd Battalion Landing Team was experiencing greater difficulty in getting organized for the attack to the north coast. Not until about 1700 did Company C get into position to relieve Company E on the battalion left. Also, the light tanks were late in arriving and the attack did not get under way until 1730. Many of the small units of Companies E, F, and G had not received the word that they were to retire into the reserve area, so when the attack jumped off there were elements of five companies intermingled in the assault As the troops advanced behind the tanks, they came under steady fire from the large blockhouse on the right and from small arms all along the line. Progress on the battalion left was fairly steady, but on the right the line remained pinned down by fire from the blockhouse.
Communication between tanks and infantry was faulty and co-ordination between the two generally poor. Tanks frequently moved out of sight or fire range of the troops that were supposed to be supporting them and engaged in independent fire fights. Infantrymen in their turn often failed to keep pace with the tanks, even when it was possible, or to provide them with the support that was their due. It was during this phase that Captain James L. Denig, who commanded Company B of the 4th Tank Battalion, got separated from his own tanks as well as his supporting infantry unit. As he stopped to get his bearings, six Japanese leaped out of the underbrush and swarmed over his tank. One of them dropped a grenade down the visual signal port, which had been left open to allow the foul air to escape from the turret. The explosion that followed mortally wounded Denig and killed his driver, and only by the timely intervention of some infantrymen who happened on the scene was the remainder of the crew rescued.
As nightfall approached some tanks pushed forward as far as the north shore, but had to pull back for want of fuel or infantry support. A few of the troops also got as far as Narcissus Street, which ran parallel to the north coast less than a hundred yards from the shore line. This was the ultimate extent of Marine progress on 1 February. About 1820 the regimental commander ordered the rest of the island to be taken but it soon became apparent that this would be impossible before nightfall, and at 1930 the order came down to dig in on a perimeter defense, hold the ground gained, and prepare to continue the attack the following morning. By that time the 3rd Battalion Landing Team had two companies abreast on a line about 175 yards north of the 0-1 line, or halfway between Sycamore Boulevard and the north shore. The 2nd Battalion Landing Team’s line was tied in with the 3rd’s and then bent back to the east to the point where the 0-1 line met the eastern shore.
The night was far from restful. Japanese who had been bypassed during the day came to life to harass the Americans from the rear. Others infiltrated from the front. To compound the confusion, trigger-happy marines in the rear areas kept up a running fire that seriously endangered troops at the front. The only organized Japanese counterattack occurred just at daybreak. Company I had lost contact with Company B on its right, thus facilitating enemy infiltration of the line. About a hundred Japanese, organized into groups often to twenty, fell upon the two companies in a desperate charge that took thirty-five minutes of intense hand-to-hand fighting to repulse. (NOTE: During this counterattack, Private Richard K. Sorenson saved the lives of five of his companions by hurling his own body on a Japanese hand grenade. For this action, which he survived, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. (Citation quoted in Proehl, The Fourth Marine Division in World War II, p. 12.) Meanwhile, Company L was ordered into the front line, and Company K was moved from Pauline Point to Namur as landing team reserve.
For the final push to the northern shore, the 24th Regimental Combat Team was to have for the first time the additional fire power of the division’s medium tanks. These had been detached from the 23rd Marines the previous evening and had already made one sortie up the west coast of Namur as far as Natalie Point and helped to break up the dawn counterattack.
At 0900 the 3rd Battalion Landing Team, supported by the mediums, resumed the attack up the left half of Namur. Company K was on the left, Company I in the middle, and Company L on the right. Company B went into battalion reserve. In the right sector of the island the attack was delayed until about 1000 because of the late arrival of the light tanks that were to support it. Meanwhile, command had been transferred from the 2nd to the 1st Battalion Landing Team, the latter under Lieutenant Colonel Aquilla J. Dyess. Dyess had a conglomerate command. In addition to Companies A, C, and E, which held positions on the front line from right to left, elements of Companies F and G still remained on the front line in spite of the fact that their parent units had been withdrawn into the rear area.
Both battalion landing teams pushed steadily forward along the west and east coasts. By 1100 the 3rd Battalion had reached Nora Point, the northwestern tip of the island. By that time, the two battalions were within visual contact of each other. The supporting tanks were then sent to the rear and the infantry, aided by halftracks, continued the fight. By 1215 the 1st Battalion and Company L had secured Natalie Point and, except for mopping up, the battle was ended. During this final assault, Colonel Dyess personally led his battalion against the final pocket of Japanese resistance. While standing in the parapet of an antitank trench directing a group of infantry in a flanking attack against the last enemy position, he was killed by enemy machine gun fire. (Colonel Dyess: For his aggressive leadership he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. (Citation quoted in Proehl, The Fourth Marine Division in World War H, p. 11.)
At 1418 on 2 February General Schmidt, commanding the 4th Marine Division, officially announced the end of organized resistance on Namur. All that remained was to mop up the few live Japanese still concealed in the underbrush and debris of Namur and to secure the rest of the islets of the northern half of Kwajalein Atoll. This latter task was assigned to the 25th Regimental Combat Team, which had made the initial D-Day assault on the islands immediately adjoining Roi-Namur and which had since been in division reserve. Between 2 February and 7 February this regiment occupied some fifty-five islands in the northern part of the atoll. Since it was at first believed that there might be enemy garrisons on these islands, artillery concentrations were fired from Alien and Albert, but this was unnecessary and was discontinued. No opposition was encountered and the natives proved friendly and anxious to be taken into American custody.
Thus, with the capture of Roi-Namur and surrounding islands, U.S. forces completed the occupation of the northern half of Kwajalein Atoll. In approximately two and a half days of fighting, the 4th Marine Division had suffered only 737 casualties, of which 190 were killed or died of wounds. Enemy losses totaled 3,563 including 3,472 enemy dead, 51 Japanese prisoners of war, and 40 Korean laborers captured. In comparison to Tarawa, the operation was both easy and cheap in terms of lives expended. The reasons for this are not hard to discover. The enemy garrison in northern Kwajalein was fewer in number than that on Tarawa by about a thousand. The Japanese had not been expecting such a deep penetration into the Central Pacific and were generally caught off balance.
Their fortifications were not particularly strong nor were they well enough emplaced to resist an invasion from the lagoon shore. Hydrographic conditions were favorable for an amphibious landing, and the Marines of the 4th Marine Division were much better supplied with the necessary amphibious equipment to effect such a landing than had been the 2nd Marine Division at Betio. Finally, and most significant, was the tremendous quantity of shells and bombs thrown into and dropped on the target before the main landings took place. Admiral Conolly’s Northern Attack Force conclusively demonstrated that in small-island amphibious operations a prolonged preliminary bombardment could preclude a high casualty list.
SOURCE: Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls: BY; Philip A. Crowl, & Edmund G. Love (United States Army Center of Military History)